by Gene Marrano
Downtown Roanoke Inc., which manages the Historic Farmer’s Market for the City of Roanoke, is taking its fruits, vegetables, meats and plants uptown. On Thursday nights in June –and maybe beyond – it will be open for business outside the Kirk Family YMCA, at the corner of 5th and Luck. That will allow greater access to locally produced goods for residents of West Downtown apartments and condos, and others who can’t get to the market during the daytime.
YMCA spokesperson Kim Bratic called it “a long overdue partnership” at a news conference last week. If successful, the June pilot project could be continued throughout the summer months. “It’s good that we’re coming together to do this,” added Bratic. DRI President/CEO Sean Luther has wanted to weave the Farmer’s Market further into the fabric of the city ever since he came from Pittsburgh several years ago.
“We really need to better integrate the Market into the community,” said Luther, who also announced the Friends of the Farmer’s Market program, where people can contribute funds directly to efforts designed to promote that cause. Friends supporters can sponsor the market at different levels, receiving items like a special T-shirt, a “Produce of the Seasons” box and tours of local apple farms.
Grants from Carilion Clinic ($5000) and the Foundation for the Roanoke Valley ($2500) will also expand the SNAP/EBT program, allowing customers of the Farmer’s Market to receive a SNAP dollar for every token they purchase. SNAP was formerly the food stamps program and is geared towards low-income patrons, encouraging them to pursue a healthier lifestyle with better food choices. In addition, the grants will kick-start a program where unsold produce for the week can be purchased for distribution to local food pantries for the poor on Saturday.
“Ready to use is what we like to call it,” said Tracie Hughes, the Farmer’s Market manager for DRI. The Foundation for the Roanoke Valley and future donors will identify which organizations should get the unused food. An anonymous donor has helped jump-start the program, with money donated through the new Friends program.
We’re always growing and changing,” said Luther, “and downtown is becoming increasing important for the region [as are] downtowns across the nation as economic development drivers. Anything we can do to expand its impact is our responsibility as the [market] managers.” Luther said they had been thinking for some time about efforts like the evening market at the YMCA.
Most of the current Farmer’s Market vendors are on board with the pilot program, added Luther, who said he “was wowed” by just how ingrained the market was as a local institution when he joined DRI. “This is a great opportunity.” About six vendors currently on the market, including those that offer seafood, baked goods, poultry and meat, will set up shop at the Y. “It’s more than just buying your fruits and vegetables,” noted Luther.
With a downtown residential population that Luther said had grown about forty percent since last summer; he sees a market for the pilot program. “The growth has been in the western half of downtown. This is an opportunity to cement the market as part of that emerging, dynamic neighborhood.” Those working out at the YMCA can also take advantage of the Thursday night Farmer’s Market at 5th Street and Luck Avenue.